Kids, Or No Kids?
Children. . . terrifying, eh?
Well, it depends on the kid and your perspective.
Having children in stories can be an ominous task, whether you don't like children, or you haven't really been around them. Or maybe you do like being around them, but portraying them is hard, because it's not something you have really considered before now.
If your story doesn't have any, that is fine. Don't feel like you have to! Some stories don't need kids in them, and they are great! It’s entirely up to you.
I'll do my best to show you realistic ways to portray these little leaping lemurs. After all, I'm the oldest of six and probably the biggest goober of them all! Where else would they learn these skills?
If done right, you can make a story a real adventure, because the nice thing about having kids in your stories is their willingness to do just about everything, and take on anything you throw at them with infuriating enthusiasm.
I will break it down into sections for you. Keep in mind that these are not rules; these are observations and suggestions. Don't just take my advice, get out there and see what you can find out for yourself! The nice thing about children is that you can usually figure out their basic personality in a very short amount of time, a perfect opportunity to put those observation skills to work! God blessed you with ears and eyes, so use ‘em.
Children are all unique. Some have similar personalities, but every human is different, which is a good thing, or we'd be a hopelessly confused lot, to be sure!
One of my favorite stories is The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt (not to be confused with the Boxcar Children). Not only is the whole story from the children's perspective, but it shows just how different kids can be.
Roberta, the oldest, clues in that something bad has happened to her daddy but doesn't know what. Mother is very busy, and so Bobby just knows she has to keep her siblings out of trouble until father comes home. Bobby is thoughtful, shy, sweet, overly concerned (I think you'll find this is typical of many big sisters), doesn't hesitate to help, but doesn't always understand when to stop or respect someone’s boundaries
Peter is the middle child and little boy who just wants to be the man of the house until father comes home to keep them all safe. He gets into heaps of trouble at times because of this, but we see the heart behind his motives, and so does his weary mother. He's a leader, extremely loyal even at his young age, rather impatient, but very bright and has a big imagination.
Thirdly, and my favorite: Phyllis. Dear, sweet little Phylis, with such good intentions, who somehow manages to do a lot of things that slow her siblings down. Her shoelaces always come undone and she treads on her frock, and feels great remorse for slowing the others down, but she's also very practical. She reminds me of my own little sister very much. Phyllis is cautious, devoted, enthusiastic, patient, and a little clumsy, but also practical and sees things very differently to Bobby and Peter.
Not all children talk 'wike dey have a wisp'. They don't have to talk like that to be cute! I know it’s adorable in person, but it can get tiring to read at times. As I said, I have five younger siblings. Not all of them talked like this, and some of them weren't very talkative to begin with.
Using this way of showing kids are cute isn't always effective. And make sure not to stereotype them! Depending on the child and the environment they are in, they may develop faster in speech than others. I know some three-year-olds with a vocabulary close to equal, if not bigger, than many five-year-olds. My youngest sister is one such child; she can talk the hind leg off a pack of mules, but she is intelligible in her words, and she comes up with the most outrageous things that make you laugh then think to yourself, "Now, where did she pick that up?" (Answer: She's got teachers in her five siblings and her parents, and she's gifted with gab!)
Some kids do talk more than others, and it can be hard for them to learn when to be quiet. They have so much going through their little minds that they just have to tell you all about everything.
The cute, snotty-nosed, thumb-sucking chatterbox seems to be the common depiction of a child, but it drives me bonkers! Why not have the smart kid who asks questions that surprise the adults? Because kids do this in real life; they ask all sorts of things we have to stop and think about before fumbling to answer because we honestly don't know how to explain it, or we don’t know at all.
There are also the children who don't talk much, and they are more mellow in behavior. These kids tend to withdraw and be sensitive little souls, and when they do talk it's usually to say something profound. I love having this kind of child in my writing because possibilities are endless and it's so sweet to have a little one who doesn't say much, but comforts with their presence and maybe a hug. I use this in my story; a little girl comforting one of the characters who is distrusting of people because she’s lost everything.
Not all children are little demons set on wreaking havoc to their surroundings!
Yes, some children are definitely little terrors, which is unfortunate. A child’s behavior is greatly hinged on their home-life and if they were disciplined and taught how to behave, then chances are they at least have manners, even if they forget to use them. If they’re allowed to be selfish and disobedient, they grow up to be even more annoying, selfish adults who either never change, or have a really hard smack of reality when they learn the world doesn’t revolve around them.
A child’s home-life has a huge impact on their character and personality. It’s not always bad, though; some children have horrible childhoods and are the well-behaved ones. Then there are the children who grew up with everything you could ask for and turn out to be rebellious brats.
The point is, you don't need to portray all children as naughty. Have some well-behaved children who charm the visitors, make everyone laugh, or warm a stranger's heart in there too.
The sweet little boy who gives flowers to the old lady who lives nearby, because he sees she's sad. . .
The gentle little girl draws a picture for the veteran and brings him cookies she made with her mother. . .
The high-energy chattery child who is raring to go; ready to take the lead in a game, but without hesitation will stop and help his friend who got hurt.
Obviously, no one is perfect and we all screw up, but find cool and sweet ways to add children to your story if it works for you. If nothing else, their antics can add a great dynamic to a story, because children do and ask the darndest things sometimes. They really do not understand all the boundaries adults have put in place. Don’t be afraid to have a moment (or several) where the kid decides to do something that makes sense in their little mind, no matter how mortifying it would be to the parents.
Maybe it’s hot, so they decide to strip to their underwear and run around in the backyard when company’s over. Or they shout for the whole world to hear that they went potty… I have witnessed this event by my siblings and other kids. It really is funny (when you aren’t responsible for said child).
Perhaps they ask a really embarrassing question to a complete stranger, or experiment with gravity by convincing another child that the blanket is a parachute and they should jump out of the barn loft (I have witnessed this, too). Seriously, the possibilities are endless.
Keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily being disobedient; they’re finding out their place in the world, seeing what’s appropriate and what’s not, and it can be a hard process, but necessary and it’ll happen, no matter how polite they may be.
I hope this was helpful, and, if nothing else, I hope it gave you a smile.
Until next time, God bless,